Genieve Figgis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “The process of being in a state of continuous unconsciousness allows me to make choices that are my own unrestrained thought. The figures are in a constant state of flux and they are limitless.”
    — Genieve Figgis


    Striking a unique balance between the comical and the gory, the historical with the modern, the figurative and the abstract, Irish painter Genieve Figgis’ captivating works are satirical reinterpretations of traditional aristocratic family portraits with a distinct Rococo flair, rendered in vibrant pastel colour palettes.


    With a penchant for the theatre and period costumes, Figgis often takes compositional inspiration from historic photographs and portraits. Featuring snapshots of the daily life of the upper class in their stately mansions, the protagonists in Figgis’ portraits are seen posing in plush gardens, riding horses, playing the piano or indulging in sumptuous feasts. Figgis creates a juxtaposition between the figures’ ghoul-like, melting faces with the opulent interiors of Bourgeois decadence, positioning the characters as caricatures in front of gaudy backdrops. Such exaggerated theatricality ridicules the extravagant excess of the genteel class, at once humorous and subversive.


    Detail of the present lot


    Creamy Pools of Colour


    “Ms. Figgis favours rich colours that bubble, ooze and marbleize as if alive.”
    — Roberta Smith


    Transfixing to the eye, Figgis works with the immediacy of watered-down acrylics, completing each painting in one sitting that might range from two to eight hours. In Pink Ballroom, striations of thick, meringue-like acrylics swirl into an amalgamation of a lavishly embellished pink backdrop. Patterns of velvet curtains and gilded windows seem to melt into each other, creating a wet-on-wet effect – like a buttery tiered cake that has been left out in the rain.


    “For a long time I’ve been pouring paint – the medium’s unpredictability is the addiction for me…”
    — Genieve Figgis


    Referring to painting as ‘a giant liquid puzzle’ i, the artist revels in the unpredictability of her medium. Preferring acrylic over oils, the artist explains: ‘I enjoy using acrylic because it just needs water [...] I like how acrylic feels to work with, how it looks when it’s wet, and how anything is possible when working with a material that battles with me.’ii Working with pre-prepared acrylics, the artist thins her paint with water to achieve a ‘wishy washy’ effect, inspired by artists such as Marlene Dumas iii. Highly experimental, Figgis’ paintings are free of restrictions, allowing the artist to take a chance on the medium itself and let it take the lead.


    In parallel, the works of Cecily Brown also draw inspiration from the Old Masters with a distinct focus on figures and forms that evolve in a state of flux. Dynamic, energetic and gestural, Brown works extremely quickly with dashes of thick impasto, just like Figgis. Yet in comparison, Brown works with paints that are more substantial, thick, and dry, as opposed to the fluidity showcased in Figgis’ portraits. Capturing loosely rendered forms in the moment they marbelise into solidity, Figgis creates a mesmerising visual effect that is hauntingly fresh.



    Humorous Spin


    “I love looking at ideas of the past in Old Masters. They were made to tell you a story. Some of the portraits have the authority and theatricality... I enjoy looking at people from the past and how they portrayed themselves.”
    — Genieve Figgis


    Often looking to masterworks by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez and Hans Holbein, Figgis’ is drawn to the theatricality of the setting and costumes from these distant pasts: ‘I love the faces and costumes staring back from another time and place. They seem to be from another world and yet only a few hundred years separate us.’i



    Francisco Goya, Charles IV of Spain and His Family, 1800-1801
    Collection of Museo del Prado, Madrid



    Poking fun at the ‘stiff’ family image that is illustrated in works such as Francisco Goya’s Charles IV of Spain and His Family, Figgis knocks down the ‘dignified’ traditional ideal. Following the precedent of artists such as George Condo who makes deliberately ‘bad’ reinterpretations of Old Masters paintings, Figgis’ eccentric melted neo-Rococo portraits are musings of the upper class life, putting a distinct contemporary spin on the classical genre of portraiture.



    Collector’s Digest


    Born 1972 in Dublin, Genieve Figgis’ works were first launched into the purview of the public eye in 2013, when Richard Prince discovered her ‘cover versions’ of eighteen-century paintings on Twitter. Beginning her artistic career only at the age of 30, Figgis began studying Fine Arts at the Gorey School. Her works are influenced by a variety of fellow female artists such as Jenny Saville, Marlene Dumas, and Cecily Brown.


    The works of Genieve Figgis have received acclaim internationally, inspiring the costume design of TV series Bridgerton. She has had numerous solo exhibitions at notable institutions including Almine Rech Gallery, Paris; Half Gallery, New York; Almine Rech Gallery, London; Gallery Met, New York; Talbot Gallery, Dublin; among many others. Group exhibitions include Gallery Target, Tokyo; Flood Gallery, Dublin; London Art Fair with Transition Gallery, London; and more. Figgis’ work has featured in international art fairs in Europe and the United States, including Art Brussels in 2017. Figgis is represented by Almine Rech Gallery in London and Half Gallery in New York.



    i Gemma Tipton, ‘Genieve Figgis: The figures are in a constant state of flux’, Wepresent, online

    ii Ibid.

    iii Katy Hessel, ‘Genieve Figgis’, The Great Women Artists Podcast, 11 February 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Half Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Pink Ballroom

signed and dated 'Genieve figgis 2018' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
150 x 150.2 cm. (59 x 59 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,016,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022